Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Rise & Buckle of Michael Steele

We won't rush to condemn Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele and his decision to give embattled White House Deputy Chief of Staff and Bush Family capo Karl Rove top billing at a recent Capitol Hill fundraiser. We're a bit more reasoned about African American political development in this new century, arguing that the community needs greater leverage inside both parties, particularly the dominant party. Putting too many eggs in one basket will end up with yolk. Steele, once a little known but relatively respected "consultant" heading an invisible and ragtag Republican Party chapter in majority upper middle-class Black Prince George's County, Maryland, has risen quickly to political pop star status within the GOP. However, his track record within the African American community remains rife with gaps and questions - yet, we can't deny that maybe that is more of Black Maryland's loss than Steele's since he is the highest ranking Black state elected official in the country.

But, given this latest development, we are forced to ask Steele: "what gives?" Here Steele stands, not only a rising Black star (an arguably "token" rise) within GOP ranks, but on the cusp of becoming Maryland's first Republican Senator since Charles "Mac" Mathias retired in 1987. And then, he decides or - as is the case with most Black Republicans - is forced to compel a Rove appearance. Not the smartest move, especially considering Rove isn't the most popular figure amongst the solid Free State Black voting block. He's really not that popular in Democratic-heavy Maryland period. The obvious question is why attract that kind of media cycle heat. Unless Steele underestimates the Fist of Kweisi Mfume and assumes the Black vote in urban and Southern Maryland is already locked, hence leaving him to draw that straw nibbling White rural vote.

Blowing Its Spot - The Bush Administration & Withdrawal Symptoms

Not too long ago, Administration officials all the way up the food chain to the President himself, adamantly maintained that there would be no "timetables" for the withdrawal of "Coalition" [translated: American & British] forces from Iraq. Said Bush during a joint press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari: " ... [T]here are not going to be any timetables. Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done. It would send the wrong message to our troops, who need to know that we are serious about completing the mission they are risking their lives to achieve. And it would send the wrong message to the enemy who would know that all they have to do is to wait us out. We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed and not a day longer."

Within a little over a month after that statement, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announces planning for a withdrawal of most of the 135,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq, post haste. This sudden about face reminds one of the changing landscape in the Global War on Terrorism ... ooops - we're sorry: now it's the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism ("GSAVE"), a pointed transition from the rhetoric of unrealistic military objectives in a shadowy war with no front. Plus, Bush hawks realized the British response to the London bombings through measured focus on crime forensics and police anti-terrorism techniques drew faster results, more suspects and public resonance. In short, Blair didn't find it necessary to declare war on entire global demographics ...

Why the sudden switch to timetables? We agree with American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Michael Rubin's assessment on today's NewsHour w/ Jim Lehrer: 2006 Congressional midterms. Only 15 months away, Republicans will have to avert pending disaster at the polls over brewing public dissatisfaction with the course of the war. This threat will not only present itself in 2006, but could very well thwart GOP bids for the White House in 2008 as Americans grow more tired of protracted warfare. Indeed, Republican leaders in the House and Senate are hard pressed to maintain their unchecked and unbalanced grip on Pennsylvania Avenue.

In addition, this sudden timetable announcement, coupled with renewed diplomatic pressure on Iraqis to develop a Constitution, double-whoppered and cheezed with the recent Supreme Court nominee helps to further place Karl Rove onto the media backburner.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Right to Rant?

This morning England's Prime Minister exploded when speaking about the recent spate of terrorism in London. On July 7th bomb blasts on two subway cars and and a historic Double-Decker bus killed 52 people. Two weeks later bombs malfunctioned and another tragic was averted.

As Londoners adjust to the threat of terrorism, they're government is preparing legislation to deal with the new menace. Parliament is set to debate new anti-terror legislation in the fall as a response to the recent bombings in London.

After meeting with opposition leaders about the legislation Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke to members of the press and addressed comments made in the UK press about why England has been targeted by the terrorists. The eloquent and passionate Prime Minister said the world has "turned over and went back to sleep" after 9/11 and said we need to "confront these people at every level. And not just their methods but their ideas."

"Their ideas," the "why do they hate us conversation?" and the "has our involvement in Iraq caused these attacks" questions have been rearing their stubborn heads in the UK press for the past couple of weeks. Paper after paper have raised the questions as part of their coverage of the Iraq war (where British soldiers were killed last week) and the London bombings. But the Prime Minister emotionally suggested we should not raise those questions, because "there is no justification for suicide bombers..." The Prime Minister is correct. There is no justification for these attacks, however, as part of the response to terror we need to have some understanding of what is causing these dastardly actions.

Ignoring that reason is typical of "western privilege" and may extend this period of terror since we won't know the level and or depth of what we are dealing with in the terrorists. But what was most compelling about Mr. Blair's rant is the sense of morality in his words.

"Obscenity," justification," "warped reasoning" and "warped logic" were just some of the words and phrases used by the Prime Minister in dealing with the questions of why. "Obscenity," "justification," "warped reasoning" and "warped logic" are some of the words and phrases that have, could and some have agree should be used when speaking about the war in Iraq. A war that has seen nearly 2,000 coalition soldiers killed and countless Iraqis. A war, according to a memo from the Prime Ministers house, was something short of justified. It is hard to speak about the lack of morals and values of terrorism when the reasons for your war in Iraq may have been built on shifting sands as well.

The Prime Minister was correct in his rant, the question is whether he was the right person to fume about the morals and values, or lack thereof, of our current situation.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Court Wars: The Old Boys Strike Back; Discerning the "views" of John Roberts & How Affirmative Action and Voting Rights don't Exist ...

We've sat on the sidelines and waited for the surging swell to level off for the past two days since the President announced his Surpreme Court nominee. The whole purpose of this is to deeply analyze exactly what's going on here - you know, cooler, reasonable heads do prevail in times like these.

What is obvious is quite a bit of struggling on the left to pinpoint what Judge Roberts is thinking or where he stands on a whole host of issues. What is also obvious is that, for certain reasons, little is said about how Roberts might reflect or has reflected on issues of race in America. Much is being made of where he might (or might not) stand on abortion - but, we hear little discussed as it relates to how he might opine on issues such as affirmative action or voting rights. Instead, the specter of a brutal abortion fight overshadows any dialogue on issues that are comparable in importance. In fact, whereas abortion transcends emotional and spiritual fault lines, issues directly impacting African Americans not only effect most demographics, but they criss cross all ideological and philosophical dimensions: social, economic, emotional, spiritual, political and racial. But, abortion, at this stage, is probably a more comfortable subject to discuss than race - or so it seems based on the perceived selective ignorance of both media and the political establishment. Abortion seems to be the pop political flavor of the month for hacks on the left and right. We watched CNN yesterday where, thankfully, DNC operative and former Gore campaign manager Donna Brazille presented concerns about the new Court's future positions on affirmative action and voting rights, only to have the subject instantly changed back to abortion and that was the last we heard of that.

Is there a larger effort to place these issues on the backburner? A sort of "here go those Black people again" attitude that pervades the discussion? We don't know. But, it reflects our position that the Black political establishment will need to muster some sort of leverage in this debate if the African American community is to have any impact on whether Roberts is confirmed. It also goes without saying that perhaps the reason affirmative action lacks mention is because, in a fast growing and competitive global economy, it's become less and less relevant in application. Therefore, it's high time for a new agenda that doesn't rely on affirmative action as the cobweb gathering centerpiece.

Conservatives seem smug and satisfied that they have picked their man; we are concerned that this reflects the "old (White) boy network" tendencies of the current Administration and government in general - the political establishment on both left and right are quick to assume that Roberts will get the nod. We are also concerned that diversity was, once again, thwarted in what could have been a rare opportunity to nominate a first Latino justice (current Attorney General Alberto Gonzales) or a third African American justice (Pepsi Co. VP Larry Thompson).
But, we suspect Bush could possibly save that for last if Rehnquist retires any time soon. It all depends on the political climate of the moment.

Friday, July 15, 2005

How Relevant is the Congressional Black Caucus ...

We found this linked piece in the Baltimore Sun interesting as a testament to the issue of relevancy as it relates to longstanding Black political institutions. It also shows that modern Black political strategy is finally exhibiting signs of change and the need to transform itself into something much more substantive that stylistic. It's about time:

" ... [T]he CBC has quietly worked behind the scenes, meeting with key Bush administration cabinet officials, forging relationships with Republican lawmakers, strengthening ties with the Hispanic and Asian American caucuses - all with the aim of meeting policy goals the group set at the start of the year. The strategy seems to be working and the caucus' constituents - black Americans and black immigrants, college graduates and college dropouts, white-collar professionals and the working poor - are better served because of it. Income, health and homeownership disparities between blacks and whites are being widely discussed. Racial parity in the criminal justice system is being addressed. Combating AIDS in Africa and in black communities here at home is on the Bush agenda."

We must emphasize "quietly" because the CBC feels that it can not afford the perception that it consorts with the enemy. But, due to the change in generational guard and course in the CBC, compounded by a Senate seat grab, this is of no real surprise. What is also not surprising is that the flagship issues seem constant - and that causes concern since we know there are many other, more significant issues in need of CBC attention. A diversity in platform would be nice.

Overall, this is the right course of action and says quite a bit if a major city newspaper provides editorial analysis on the transformation. However, we remain concerned by the alarming rate of familial ties among the Black Congressional elite and must question if inherited seats truly serve the best interests of a community historically besieged by the sins of preferential treatment.

Where is Bob Novak?

New York Times reporter Judith Miller in jail. Karl Rove facing his toughest political battle yet and the possibility of further inquiry (criminal penalties? We seriously doubt that based on our informal gauge of the Republican fraternity - not anytime soon, at least). And Time journalist Matthew Cooper almost pressed into judicial oblivion himself.

Everybody else seems under fire. We have to ask: What's up with Robert Novak? Our admitted (and, to some degree, chosen) ignorance on this subject precludes us from passing too many judgements, but shouldn't Novak be getting his fair share of time on the media spit? Instead, the Bah Humbugsman of the Right is seen chillin' on the talking head circuit like this latest scandal is a passing wind. Didn't all of this start with him? Shouldn't he be wearing orange and laid up on musty prison mattresses, too? Just asking ...

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Court Wars: Can the NAACP Deliver?

NAACP Chairman Julian Bond gave the usual, predictable and Civil Rights generation rant on Bush, race and the American way at the opening session of the organization's annual conference.

We say predictable because this is the headliner each year at every NAACP conference, in which rancorous rhetoric seizes the sensationalistic urges of journalists who find little purpose in learning about the NAACP's work (or the work it's supposed to do) and, instead, get sidetracked by the personalities. That's all part of the game, we guess ...

Bond: “There can be no issue of greater or more immediate importance than the upcoming confirmation battle, and we intend to be in the thick of the fight. One vote, for example, upheld affirmative action in higher education – and that vote belonged to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor."

But, we have to ask: what, exactly, does that fight entail? While Bond rails about White House indifference to civil rights in Milwaukee, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (D-Tenn.) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) emerged from compromise talks with Bush two days later in D.C. Whether that made any substantial impact remains to be seen: Bush is more concerned about drawing potential Latino votes for the 2006 Congressional mid-terms and the 2008 race for his party than he is about human rights and equality.

But, we're curious as to how the NAACP plans to insert itself into this process in a way that is innovative and unique. Blasting Republicans half a continent away is one thing, but the true test is having a real seat at that table in the "smoke filled room." Bond always makes valid points, but if the NAACP isn't making any concerted impact on the PACs, pockets and lobbyist friends of the party that dominates Pennsylvania Avenue, all this noise is falling on deaf ears ...Will it be staged protests and picket signs on First Street that are supposed to play on the conscience of a political Establishment more concerned with carving pork barrel deals, raising campaign monies and smoky power lunches? Or will sleeves really roll up in an across party lines attempt at the serious, unapologetic and nasty political arm-twisting that's required in order to ensure the pick of an acceptable and fair nominee? We're looking for a new strategy in a new time: can the NAACP deliver?

Why Dick Morris is Wrong ...

To think, we were all under the impression Surpreme Court Justices ultimately answer to the Constitution of the United States, guided in a lifetime effort to fairly and properly interpret laws set forth in the defining edict of modern democracy. In turn, the objective is to judiciously enforce laws that are in the best interest of the American people as a collective.

Go figure, it looks like we're wrong. At least that's what former Clinton political advisor and turncoat Dick Morris would have us think. Says Morris about the rumored retirement of Chief Justice Rehnquist in his recent The Hill column on Wed., 7/13/05:

"If Rehnquist were not old and if he were not sick, the self-sacrifice of resignation would be unthinkable to ask. But let him stop kidding himself: He is too sick to sit on the Supreme Court and should resign. He can’t participate in court sessions and only is able to vote through his clerks.Recognizing reality is the ultimate repayment that I think he owes the political party that gave him the opportunity to sit on the high court as its chief justice in the first place. Even more, it is the obligation he owes the nation not to split it apart and enfeeble its president by forcing a litmus-test decision upon him. [this last sentence is a whack attempt at acknowledging and lightly diminishing the extreme nature of the original assertion]"

At issue here is when partisan hackers completely defile the fair intent of our Founding Fathers and their ensuing institution, using the Court as a springboard for partisan action. It's wrong when the right does it; it's equally wrong when the left does it. If a recent compromise between the Bush White House and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) holds weight, then we applaud the rare, prevailing instance of true democratic principle where factions ease tension and save the Republic through old fashioned accord.

We figure that nominations should not be based on party loyalties and that, perhaps in the immediate utopian future, a clause can be inserted in Federal and State constitutions thereby establishing all judicial nominees be Independent and unaffiliated with partisan organizations. Of course, that doesn't address whether a nominee is liberal or conservative - but, it could go a long way towards quieting the likes of Dick Morris. Rehnquist owes no one or no thing but the Constitution he and other justices swore to serve and protect. Anything less than that or mirroring partisan dictate is absolutely criminal.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

ASCENT Blog to Conservatives: Why Are You So Pressed?

Correct us if we're wrong: 7 of the 9 Surpreme Court justices were appointed by Republican Presidents. Now, not to say that all Republicans are conservative (making that clear party/ideology distinction), but the math makes it pretty clear that conservatives have hit the jackpot with judicial nominees. Retirements and sudden deaths seems to always work in their favor. O'Connor is out, Rehnquist is soon to follow, so Bush is going to have a field day maintaining that track record.

So, what's the fuss? "Runaway jurists?" We think not - compliant and politically convenient is more like it. Does every aspect of American life have to be your way or the highway?

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Live8 & Philly Poverty ...

The poverty rate in the City of Philadelphia, which is 45 percent African American, is about 20 percent. In some suburbs around Philly, poverty is 5-6 percent higher than that (take Chester for example, a complete swath of suburban decay). In some ways, the presence of the recent Live8 concert in plush "Center City" Philadelphia can be interpreted as casual ignorance of the serious issues of poverty in its own backyard, in places like North, South and West Philadelphia with high demographics of residents of "African" descent who struggle through an oppressive array of social, political and economic challenges.

Where is their Live 8?

While hosting a concert to help eradicate poverty, Philly's Mayor Street wrangles with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania over a $10 million match to $50 million being committed by Gov. Rendell for for Community Based Prevention funding. Yet, rather than accept responsibility for misplaced ignorance over Governor Rendell’s proposed $251 million for child welfare programs, the Street Administration avoids the required 20 percent city match by blaming the Commonwealth for budget malfeasance. The $10 million needed from Philly for critical neighborhood, youth and family programs, particularly for the poor and working, struggling class, seems like the tip of a fraction of a multi-billion dollar budget, especially when one considers the millions paying for police overtime, emergency preparedness, crowd-control and traffic plans during Live 8.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Swing Low, Swing Right?

The stunning announcement came early this morning that Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is resigning from the United States Supreme Court.

The declaration shocked Court watchers who had expected any resignation from the Court after the recent end of the Court's session would be that of the ailing and conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist. A resignation which would have had very little impact on the precarious balance of the Court.

However, with Justice O'Connor's resignation the Court could now be off kilter. The first woman Justice was a trailblazing moderate who was the swing vote on numerous decisions including affirmative action and gay rights and was one of the six votes that protected abortion.

While abortion rights may be safe, for the time being, affirmative action now may be in dire straits with a new justice appointed by President George W. Bush.

The President and his administration are no friends of affirmative action, even filing an amicus brief against the concept in the critical case dealing with the admission policies of the University of Michigan (a case in which Justice O'Connor cast the deciding vote to allow race as a factor in college adminssions); the administration has been waiting for this moment for four years. Waiting for the moment to begin to swing the court in a more conservative direction.

Ironically the entity that gave George W. Bush the presidency may now be shaped in his conservative ideology for decades to come because a pragmatic, moderate and thoughtful justice has called it quits.